War is hell -- but what happens when war is fought by kids?   I Declare War shows how fun and games among children can turn into viciousness and betrayal.

I Declare War focuses on a game of "war" (whose origin is never explained) that's a mix of paintball and capture the flag.  Two teams have their own base, with a flag, in the woods, and a team wins by capturing the enemy's flag and bringing it back to their base.  The players can also shoot each other with paintball guns (making the victim paralyzed until they count out "one steamboat, two steamboat..." up to ten steamboats) and kill an enemy with a "grenade" that's a balloon filled with red liquid.

The teams, though, seem more like adults than kids.  Multiple war champion P.K. (Gage Munroe) is obsessed with tactics and history, coming up with numerous strategies and willing to sacrifice his teammates, and best friend Paul (Siam Yu), to win the war.  On the other team, Skinner (Michael Friend) took over by killing his side's general -- and Skinner might be willing to injure and torture players, for real, to win.  One kid is declared his side's chaplain because he was picked last and doesn't want to fight, "Joker" (Spencer Howes) imagines blowing people up with lasers from his eyes, and Jessica (Mackenzie Munroe) uses sex appeal and manipulation to sow doubt and dissent among the players.  Then there's Caleb (Kolton Stewart), who never speaks but travels with his dog and may be the most dangerous one of them all.
 I Declare War is a strange mix of innocence and mature decisions in these kids.  The makeup of the armies feels a lot like the typical characters you'd get in a war movie -- the thinkers, the cruel, the buddies, even the pacifist -- and things play out much as you'd expect from them.  At the same time, the kids can also act like kids: Imagining their paintball guns and water balloons are automatic pistols and real grenades, Joker's continual "Would you rather" questions about tough choices, or one character leaving the war briefly to get some juice.  But the game is all too real for some of the players, and the movie shows how even a pretend war can turn some to cruelty, sacrifice, and test friendships to their limits.
 I Declare War is no Lord of the Flies (which showed what kids can become when society's rules are totally removed) but it's an interesting look at how a fake war can change little kids.  The acting is good and the end is oddly satisfying.  (DVD extras include commentaries, plus the cast playing paintball together.)
Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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